The Arena was opened in 1995. It is situated to the north of the city centre in Manchester. Its footprint lies above Manchester Victoria Railway Station and it can be accessed from the station concourse via a raised walkway. The freehold interest in the Victoria Exchange Complex is held by Network Rail. Between 2013 and 2018, Mansford LLP (Mansford) held a lease for the Arena. Mansford sublet the Arena and had no involvement in the day-to-day management. I shall deal further with the sub-lease granted by Mansford to the Arena operator, SMG, below.
The Arena is one of the largest and busiest indoor arenas in Europe, with a maximum capacity of 21,000.
Figure 5: Plan view of the Victoria Exchange Complex
Figure 5 shows the layout of the Victoria Exchange Complex. The City Room can be seen to the left of centre. One of the main Arena entrances opens out into this space, providing access to the NCP car park, Trinity Way via a pedestrian tunnel and the railway station and tram platform via a raised walkway. For these reasons, it is a popular location for people to wait to pick up attendees at the end of an event.
On the opposite side of the City Room from the Arena doors, there are stairs up to the mezzanine. This is where SA waited before walking down the stairs and towards the Arena doors, where he detonated his bomb. Figure 6 shows a view of the mezzanine level from the main floor of the City Room.
Figure 6: View of the mezzanine from the main floor of the City Room
At the top of the flight of stairs, on the left in Figure 6, is the entrance to JD Williams. At the top of the flight of stairs on the right is the former location of McDonald’s. In order to distinguish between the two sides of the mezzanine I will refer to the ‘JD Williams’ side’ and the ‘McDonald’s side’ by reference to these two locations. I will take the same approach when identifying the two staircases which lead up to each of these areas. Behind the raised area, above the Grey Doors exit between the staircases, is a corridor space. This connects the JD Williams’ side of the mezzanine with the McDonald’s side of the mezzanine.
Figures 7 and 8 show the City Room empty and with people queuing to enter the Arena. These photographs were not taken on 22nd May 2017. Behind the position from which the photograph in Figure 7 was taken is the McDonald’s side of the mezzanine, near the doors to the raised walkway. The photographer of Figure 8 was standing on the JD Williams’ side of the mezzanine.
Figure 7: The City Room viewed from near the doors to the raised walkway
Figure 8: The City Room viewed from the JD Williams side of the mezzanine
The City Room, as an area outside an event site to which the public had access, is an example of what Colonel Richard Latham and Dr David BaMaung, the Security Experts instructed by the Inquiry, described as “grey space”. This is a space where there is a lack of clarity over ownership or where various neighbours, partners or tenants have responsibility for security.The City Room is part of the Victoria Exchange Complex, but not within the Arena itself. Except between 00:00 and 05:30, the public had access to it at all times, including during events. Employees and customers of the other businesses within the Arena complex came and went through it.
There were two control rooms within the Arena: Sierra Control and Whisky Control. Sierra Control was only used for events. Whisky Control was open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I shall provide further detail about the relationship between these two control rooms in Part 6.
There were three organisations or institutions in particular which had significant responsibility for security within the City Room: the owner and operator of the Arena, SMG; its crowd management and security subcontractor for events, Showsec; and the relevant police services, primarily BTP. I consider the extent of BTP’s responsibility and how well it was discharged on 22nd May 2017 in Part 7. The responsibilities of the private organisations are dealt with in further detail below.